Appeals Court Upholds Dismissal of FDCPA Class Actions Over ‘Misleading’ Statements in Letter

As far as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is concerned, there is a huge difference between a collection letter that may be misleading and individuals who received that letter actually being misled, according to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which yesterday upheld the dismissal of two suits.

A copy of the ruling in the cases of Trichell & Cooper v. Midland Credit Management can be accessed by clicking here. Each plaintiff filed separate cases against the defendant, but they were amalgamated because they essentially made the same claims.

The plaintiffs received collection letters attempting to collect on time-barred debts. Both letters offered significant discounts to settle the debts. Both letters also included the following disclosure at the bottom of the letter: “The law limits how long you can be sued on a debt and how long a debt can appear on your credit report. Due to the age of this debt, we will not sue you for it or report payment or non-payment of it to a credit bureau.”

Both filed class-action lawsuits alleging the letters were misleading. Trichell accused the defendant of falsely suggesting he could be sued or the debt could be reported to a credit bureau. Cooper accused the defendant of not disclosing that a partial payment would re-start the statute of limitations on the debt.

But neither plaintiff ever alleged that the letters they received “substantially increased the risk” of harm to either of them. Trichell asserted the letter “would lead a consumer to believe that they [sic] had to pay this debt to avoid being sued, credit reported, or having to pay the full amount at some point in the future.” Cooper alleged the letter put him in a “difficult position” but never went any further than that. At the end of the day, neither plaintiff alleged a “particularized” injury, the Appeals Court ruled. Even if they had, the risk had dissipated by the time they chose to sue the defendants, the Appeals Court said.

“Even if Trichell and Cooper were placed at risk of being defrauded when they received their collection letters, the risk never materialized, had dissipated before the complaints were filed, and cannot possibly threaten any future concrete injury,” the Appeals Court wrote. “For this additional reason, Trichell and Cooper cannot show Article III standing based on a risk of injury.”

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